A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 47 Holding on to the pine-tree, he made another attempt to rise and at last succeeded, but as soon as he tried to bring his legs up to the tree he collapsed from weakness, and from a frightful, new itching pain in the feet. Was this the end? Was he to perish here, under the pines, where, perhaps, nobody would find and bury his bones, picked clean by the beasts of the forest? Over- powering weakness pressed him to the ground. But in the distance the guns rumbled. Fighting was going on over there, and his own people were there. Would he be unable to muster enough strength to cover these last eight or ten kilometres? The rumble of the guns put new courage into him, called him persistently, and he responded to the call. He got up on his hands and knees and ambled on like an animal, at first instinctively, hypnotised by the sounds of the distant battle, and later consciously and delib- erately, realising that it was easier to go through the forest this way than with the aid of the staff. Not having to bear any burden, his feet hurt less, and he could move faster on his hands and knees. And again he felt a lump rising in his throat from sheer joy. As though encourag- ing somebody else who had lost heart and doubted the possibility of progressing in this incredible fashion, he said aloud: "Never mind, my boy, everything will be all right now!" After completing one of his laps, Alexei warmed his frozen hands by holding them under his arm-pits, then crept up to a young fir-tree, cut out two square pieces of bark and, breaking his finger-nails in the process, tore several long strips of bast from the trunk. He then took the strips of woollen scarf from his fur boots and wound them round his hands; over his knuckles he placed the pieces of bark, fastened them with the bast strips and then tied the whole with the bandage of one of the dressings. On the right hand he thus obtained a broad and very convenient mitten. But he was not so successful with the left hand, which he had to tie up with the aid of his teeth. But for all that, his hands were now "shoed", and Alexei proceeded on his way, feeling the going easier. At the next stop he tied pieces of bark to his knees too.